My continuing quest to see everything in New York City

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Bay Ridge

Doing a subway research project for a mapping firm in San Francisco finds me in Bay Ridge at 11:00 at night with some excess energy - what better way to exhaust it than to knock off a few more tracts?

There are a lot of churches (including a beautiful Episcopalian one at 99th and Ft. Hamilton Parkway), and a lot of really cheesy clubs in Bay Ridge. One such club advertises "Tila Tequila winner Bobby" appearing. That, and the gorgeous view of the Verrazano, pretty much sums up the neighborhood. It hasn't really progressed that far from its Saturday Night Fever days.

I mostly walk up Third Avenue with a few side street detours. I haven't been to Bay Ridge for a while (I used to schlep down to a great Greek place on 86th and 4th every once in a while), and kind of thought it would have changed more demorgraphically than it has. The neighborhood isn't quite as Arabic (the newer immigrant group in the neighborhood) as I thought it would be, the Irish-Italian, Joey Bagadonuts character strongly remains, much more so than in other Southern Brooklyn neighborhoods. Layout is your typical borough variation of mixed-used avenues, large apartments on the corners, and homes on the side streets. Some side streets, especially west of Third Avenue, feature large detached homes, others more simple rowhouses. I make my way by the out-of-place Bay Ridge towers, under the Robert Moses-built monsterous merger of the Gowanus Expressway and Shore Parkway, and over to the 59th street N stop to head back home.

Neighborhoods: Bay Ridge, Sunset Park. Tracts walked: B162, B54, B56.01, B56.02, B58, B60, B62, B64, B66, B68, B70, B72

Monday, March 17, 2008

Heart of the Stuy

Up Nostrand, back down Marcus Garvey. Around the southern part of the area there's some really lovely Brownstone blocks - Stuyvesant Heights seems to be the sub-neighborhood. Some blocks are even landmarked as part of Stuyvesant Heights Historic District, but I don't see any of the telltale brown streetsigns. This is also the oldest African-American part of Central Brooklyn. As far back as the 1940s the greater Stuyvesant Heights area - basically between Atlantic, Lafeyette, Bedford, and Malcom X Blvd - was predominantly African-American, while neighboring neighborhoods like Brownsville were still 80% Jewish.

Central Brooklyn 2008 is a far cry what it used to be. Everything's developed - empty buildings or storefronts area at the very most one per block. A vacant lot filled with old bicycles was really the only reminder of the old Stuy I ran into. Still, Bed-Stuy is the kind of place that varies greatly from block to block. If I had turned right rather than left a couple of times I might have had a different idea of the area. In New York, even within an area as small as a census tract - or even a block - there can be really different kinds of areas.

I'm always interested to see who gets up this far out into the hood. There's plenty of local folks I don't recognize. Of the All-City types, JA is (of course) up a lot, and I see a DRO tag (old though) also. I also see a KUMA tag, and I have to say, I'm beginning to revise my estimation of the guy as only being up in Lower Manhattan and North Brooklyn. Surprisingly I run into no Jesus Saves tags. Other than maybe JA, Jesus Saves is the most All-City guy out there, although I've never seen him in tunnels, or really anywhere off the street.

The neighborhood turns from Brownstones (and the occasional other interesting architecture - some Tudor apartments and and what appears to be an old armory turned into a men's shelter) into projects as I go north. There is none of the Hassidic bleed down south of Flushing over here like there is around the Marcy Projects - Flushing avenue still serves as the dividing line between African-American Bed-Stuy and Puerto Rican/Hassidic Williamsburg.

I also take in a few tracts south of Atlantic in Crown Heights. What's interesting to me is that the Lubavitchers have no presence north of Eastern Parkway, even around Brooklyn Avenue where the community is centered. I go nuts for a Hassidic lady in a tight long jean skirt pushing a stroller down Eastern Parkway. The Lubavitchers are definitely becoming more and more secular influenced in dress and lifestyle. I wouldn't even really call them Hassidic anymore (although definitely frum) - they're more of their own strange thing. It's hard for me to tell where Crown Heights becomes predominantly Caribbean rather than African American - again, I'm going to go nuts for the 2010 census data.

Neighborhoods: Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Stuyvesant Heights, Williamsburg. Tracts Walked: B339, B341, B313, B269, B267, B265, B263, B261, B259.01, B257, B507, B283, B281, B279, B277, B275, B273, B311, B343

Thursday, March 13, 2008

South Ozone Park

Number 7 on stuff white people like - diversity. As a result, there's a lot of press in New York-centric publications about the various diverse neighborhoods around town. Jackson Heights in Queens, followed by Ditmas Park and Kensington in Brooklyn and Sunnyside in Queens, get the most press for this (probably because they're the closest to Manhattan and Northwest Brooklyn, and as such, to the people who write about this kind of stuff). One neighborhood that usually gets slept on is Ozone and South Ozone Park.

After dropping the lady off at JFK I decided to save $5 on the Airtrain fare. You used to be able to walk out the other side of the Howard Beach station to the Aqueduct stop (about 10 minutes), but they've fenced that off now, so it's tough to do, especially with luggage. So instead I get off the Airtrain at Lefferts Boulevard. It's much more than a 10 minutes walk to the train from here, but I've got time to schlep through Ozone Park.

Ozone Park itself is pretty much the definition of nondescript Queens - blocks of wood-frame detached houses account for the vast majority of the neighborhood. Aqueduct Raceway is kind of interesting - they have guards around the back at the entrance for horses and trainers. Someday I'll go to the track and write up that tract properly. I can't in good faith check it off the list quite yet. In fact, looking at the map, I realize I've walked borders pretty much the whole way. I can really only say I walked one tract - 846.01

I head around the racetrack and across the main commercial thoroughfare of the area, Rockaway Parkway. It's kind of a hybred between a regular neighborhood commercial thoroughfare like, say Roosevelt Avenue, and a more industrial-commerical thoroughfare, like Northern Boulevard. You get these kind of streets out in the less densely populated parts of the boroughs. I grab some beans and rice (three bucks!) jump on the A train and head on back.

Neighborhoods: Ozone Park, South Ozone Park, Aqueduct Raceway. Tracts Walked: Q846.01

Saturday, March 8, 2008

South South Bronx

While on about 140th street a car passed us blasting Boogie Down Production "South Bronx." My companion does not recognize the song, making me feel old. I met KRS-One once - quite honestly he was a little freaky. He had this HUGE smile and kind of reminded me of an evil clown.

The walk itself was nice. A friend lives in the very-mildly gentrifying corner of the Bronx right over the Third Avenue Bridge. We headed along Bruckner and 132nd to Randall's island. It's a little-known fact, but there is one place where you cross between Bronx and New York counties without using a bridge or swimming (not counting Marble Hill). It's not quite a direct land connection, but there's a sort of makeshift pedestrian bridge made out of concrete between the two - I'll let you find it yourselves. A crew is there doing drilling. Something might have gotten lost in the translation, but I think one of the crew members indicated they were taking soil samples and planned on making a (real) pedestrian bridge. As an added bonus, there's a REVS sculpture there. It's always fun finding the interesting stuff other people (very often REVS) have left behind in out-of-the-way, and sometimes very out-of-the-way, places around town.

They're currently doing a number on Randall's Island. The new Queens bike ramp seems to be done, which is cool, and they're currently demolishing some part of the Triboro Bridge Plaza. A lot of stuff is fenced off due to construction and renovation going on - a new stadium, new ballfields, all sorts of stuff hopefully will be ready for this summer.

We head back to the Bronx a more orthodox way and wander up to St. Mary's Park. I consider doing the walk through the old freight rail tunnel underneath the park, but it's at least six inches deep in muck. We head through the park instead (one of the first places outdoor hip-hop concerts took place back in the 1970s), and up to where there's no more muck in the tunnel. We plan to head back later with more folks, admire PK and Kid's handiwork on the old Bronx Night Court I once almost killed myself in (I never did figure a way onto the roof like those two did - I'm kind of jealous). This has always been one of my favorite parts of the Bronx, and one of the last to be redeveloped. It's only been in the last 5 years or so that the small rowhouses and condos have popped up where the vacant lots have been (and there's still a few there). One cool thing is that the New York Botanical Garden has preserved a lot of the casitas in the area, which are still around. There's also still a few other less interesting abandoned courthouses and government buildings in the district - one's been demolished to make way for a new Boriqua College building.

After some more wandering around the general area we head over to the Concourse, and then check out the new Yankee Stadium being built - I've been out of town a while, I had no idea it was even underway yet. From there it's over to one of my favorite parts of the city, the Harlem River Waterfront (on both sides of the Bronx River). But those stories I'll save for another time.

Neighborhoods: Randall's Island, Ward's Island, Grand Concourse, Yankee Stadium, Mott Haven, Morrisania, Melrose, South Bronx. Tracts Walked: BX 81, BX15, BX 17, BX 33, BX37, BX71, BX 137, BX173, BX 187, M240